Short Final: Do Over


I was making a late‐night approach to Des Moines International Airport.

Me: “Des Moines approach, Baron 12KA, 15 east at 3000.”

Tower: “12KA turn left heading 180, descend then right to land on 23.”

Me: “Roger, 12KA.”

I was on a heading of 270, then turned left to 180 and headed south. With the airport in sight, I started a turn to the right on an initial heading of about 195 toward the airport.

Tower: “Baron 12 KA, I realize you are the only plane in the sky but your clearance was to fly 180 until making a right turn to 23, not fly a loop.”

I kicked the nose back to 180 until the runway was off the right wingtip and then made the turn directly to 23.

The following night I was once again approaching the airport.

Me: “Des Moines approach, Baron 12KA, 15 east at 3000.”

The same air traffic controller as last night was on duty.

Tower: “Baron 12 KA, it’s the same procedure as last night. Do you think you can get it right this time?”

Me: “12KA. If I don’t, I’ll be back tomorrow night to try again.”

Tower: “12 KA, cleared to land on 23.”

Once taxiing to the Elliott Aviation ramp, we shared a good laugh together.

Jim Lightfoot

White Oak, Texas


  1. Back in the mid 70’s I flew into Des Moines on a nightly mail run, Monday through Friday. They had a mail distribution center there and many of us would arrive at nearly the same time and unload our mail while the postal workers would bring out a new load for us to return with. Most of us were at the bottom rung on our career path and the short 45 minute layover had us congregate and tell war stories about icing, old radios, no autopilot nor radar and surviving hours at night flying across a sleeping countryside. I was flying a Commander 680FL with geared engines that required a gentle touch. Some of the fellas flew Senecas but the top dogs flew for SMB stage lines and crewed the venerable B-18. Now 16 years retired from a major airline, I still think of those flights and how they remained burned into my memory and also made me a more proficient instrument pilot.

    • I wonder how many people knew back then and know today that SMB Stage Lines was Sedalia-Marshall-Booneville Stage Lines, founded as a taxi service in 1920 and then a bus company in 1930. Missouri that is. It was the largest air taxi mail company in 1971. For some folks in the ’60s and early ’70s SMB was the logical next aviation stepping stone into DC-3s and Beech 18s out of Spartan flight school instructor ranks. SMB: a small Missouri triangle which at the end of its run went global but still retained the old stage coach name and was still owned and operated by succeeding generations of the same family. Those were the cold, hard, ugly, beautiful days and nights.

  2. Ah–the life of a “Freight Dog”–and we reveled in being called “Freight Dogs”! Though I fly corporate turbine aircraft, I was asked to be a “fill-in pilot” for a UPS contractor, flying Queen Airs–and found that I really enjoyed getting back to the pride of “doing a job well”–and the predictable nature of the freight run–and the fact that I usually flew by myself.

    Though we lived within a 250 mile radius of Minneapolis, we all saw each other every night–usually having a short dinner together. The airplanes were old but exceptionally maintained–we maintained a schedule in all weather and night operations–and the freight pilots delighted in being called “freight dogs”

    Just an old pilot and an old aircraft–but we still “delivered the goods” every day–and took pride in doing so in all kinds of Minnesota weather.

  3. One of the best first officers I ever had on the 727 was a female freight dog. We kept each other entertained with war stories and laughing all the way while the Flight Engineer enjoyed the colorful stories peppered with appropriate verbiage.

  4. I was flying one night into LaGuardia (LGA) and my first officer and I were taking in the clear night view of NYC. He told me the story of his first flight to the area hauling checks long ago. He was based in Ohio and was departing LaGuardia for home. It was also a clear night and after takeoff, the controller told him, “Proceed direct Liberty, then cleared…” (on to his filed route westbound). He had studied the charts, but being unfamiliar with the area, “Liberty” didn’t ring a bell. He confessed to the controller and the reply was, “Just look for the broad with the torch.”